I will be arriving in Tokyo Dec 26, taking the NEX to the city, spending 3 days in Tokyo and then catching the bullet train to Nagano Dec 29. On Jan 2, I leave Nagano for Tokyo and head straight to Narita. Would I save more money buying the JR east pass than individual tickets for each segment? I hear that it is peak season on the trains so some say to reserve a seat in advance which I could do far more in advance with individual tickets than the JR east pass. Thanks!
It`s really worth it, you can ride the bullet train but also some normal rails on the city, and I recommend to always reserve the seats on advance, bye.
Um... IMHO, forget about JR East pass and reserve a seat in advance.
It's not just another tourist season. Most of companies in Japan end the year around Dec 29th or 30th and start the new year at Jan 4th. In this year-end/new-year holiday, many people go home to celebrate the New Year with family. Since Jan 4th is Monday (it means this year's Holiday gonna be a disappointingly short one for us), some people will give it early start (probably from Dec 26th). You're going to visit Japan during the major exodus period. If I were you, I don't take downbound trip at 29th and upbound at Jan 2nd. They're the Dates that expected to be the extreme.
Also, may I ask where you're staying in Tokyo? I'm living in Tokyo more than 30 years and I don't use NEX. From my place, Keisei-line is far cheaper and quicker way to Narita. NEX isn't always the best way to leave/go to the airport. It depends where are you going.
Hope this helps and enjoy your visit!
Price-wise, this is very easy to figure out using www.hyperdia.com (prices converted to USD at today's rate):
NRT --> Tokyo via NEX: 3,190 JPY ($26)
Tokyo (Shinagawa) --> Nagano: 10,050 JPY ($82)
Nagano --> NRT: 10,580 JPY ($84)
total: 23,820 JPY ($192)
Cost of JR East 5 day Flexi Pass: 22,000 JPY ($180)
(5 travel days within 14 days of activating the pass).
The edge clearly goes to the JR East pass, with the added bonus of being able to take a side trip from either Tokyo or Nagano for 'free' (Yudanaka is a very nice day trip from Nagano city, for example). You can also use your pass to get around Tokyo, all JR trains included. And if you want to change times-- say you're having a blast in Tokyo and don't want to leave yet, having a pass makes it incredibly flexible and easy. Just find the JR Travel center in any major station and they'll do it on the spot.
I can't speak specifically to the days after christmas, but in my experience, reserving a shinkansen ticket way in advance has never been necessary, even during high tourist season in the spring. Just reserve seats for the Nagano trips when you activate your pass in the airport.